When it comes to self-improvement, we’re all like teenagers.
Individuals of little experience but whose bold and unwarranted confidence makes one a sudden expert. Day three of the diet, and we’re telling anyone who will listen how it is done—the science, the methodology, and the rest. Week two at the gym, and we’re basically cross-fit champions—the first time author who writes a blog on the book publishing industry.
I think it’s human nature for all but the introverts—they wouldn’t tell you the damn secret if you paid them.
It’s not a bad thing to share what one knows. The exuberance we feel when we start any new journey is something we want to share. Of course, if you do tout your expertise, especially as a writer or blogger, you also have to be prepared to eat crow —I’m not sure why the “eating crow”idiom ever came to mean admitting one’s mistakes (I do know, I’m just avoiding the origin story).
As you might have read (ad nauseam), I’m on a self-development journey. It’s the absolute joy of being in your 50s. You are almost required to redefine yourself. People expect it. It comes under many different names for many reasons: Midlife Crisis, Divorce, Menopause (for women), Crisis of Faith, and probably some I haven’t thought to write here.
Regardless, I’m on said journey. As a writer, I must chronicle the entire thing . . . In writing. I’m filling the requirement by writing the experience in three places: My daily journal, my self-development journal, and this blog. That’s unfortunate for me. All that writing and evidence really makes it challenging to be a revisionist. To claim that exuberant teenage expertise . . . And yet, I often do.
I think I have it all figured out. The next step, the perfect plan, the triumphant advancement, and the assured victory over self—only to look back within the pages and see how wrong I was.
There is much value in recognizing the errors and in having to reassess the plan. I have months and months of examples of what not to do. And as I wrote in my last post, knowing nothing taught me everything . . . Well not yet, but there is a ways to go and time to get there.
I wrote about the importance of core values. They are truly the only thing we can measure ourselves against. To quote a favorite quote: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
One can go through life as a chameleon. Being, believing, and reflecting what those around them expect. I personally could not live with that level of personal dishonesty–Not the deception to others, the lying to my self.
Whether we write or even recognize them, we all have a set of core values. A personal collection of codes we cannot break, or that when we do break, makes us feel out of balance. In the ordinary course of life, not verbalizing these values is probably okay. But when one has begun the self-fulfillment journey, these values become guideposts—lighthouses that keep you off the rocks.
I felt pretty comfortable with my set. They certainly sounded excellent and honorable. And, they were an outstanding selection. Living life by them would not be the worst thing. Except while they resonated in theory, I struggled with how some of them specifically guided my journey forward.
As I may have mentioned, I began the selection process at like two hundred and fifty, and reluctantly reduced it to ten. It felt like a good and robust list. They appeared as values I could and should live by. That is still true.
But still, something felt a little off. A good plan doesn’t necessarily mean a good practice. And, as was my practice, saying them aloud each day often, with some, left me feeling less than exuberant. I carried on until I came upon an article on the topic. The author (now forgotten, sorry) recommended that in the selection, the chooser should do two things.
First, cluster the values into groups that seem/feel like they go together. Many “Core Values” have crossover (Freedom and Independence, for example). The clustering methods helps you select the core-core value.
Second, you should define what that core value means to you. Setting it in your own words and attempting to give it meaning, you start to see the selections that sound good but aren’t really a primary (or core) value.
I added a third step to the process. That is: How do I or could I practice this value in my daily life.
The practice was much harder than I thought—especially that last step.
Together, however, my list of core values became five. Five things that genuinely represented the things I would defend and that could not bend. I could verbalize what they meant to me, why they were essential to my life, and how they looked in daily practice.
And there was one that turned out to be the most important. And the most important to achieving my goals.
It encapsulated my need to remain authentic.
It spoke to building grit. But it did even more of the heavy lifting.
I view personal integrity as how we act with and toward others, and how we act toward ourselves. For me, it was about the mental image and the moral image of who I am, wanted to be, and the personal accountability to ensure I stayed true to those intentions.
That may not be your definition of personal integrity.
Keeping my word to myself was critical to every other choice I might make. In life, thus far, I had often sacrificed my goals for the goals of others (if you’re a parent or spouse, you get it). Most times that was a worthy sacrifice. But at some junctures in life and for some sacrifices, it was not.
If I could not be true to myself, my dreams, and goals, what would be the worth of any other core value I might choose? If I could not keep the most important one, then none of the others stood a chance.
Personal integrity also meant not lying to myself. Of that, I was a master. I am honest, sometimes too honest, with others. But I could rationalize the hell out of my own actions and inactions.
Personal integrity is about character, and those of excellent character do not lie to themselves. If I make a commitment to a goal or objective, then my personal integrity requires that I keep to the path toward achievement. If that goal is positivity, then personal integrity mandates that the pity parties, judging others, and toxic people must be eliminated.
So, I have found that one core value has made keeping the others much easier. It has made many of my choices easier. In any situation, in any request, in any choice, I can ask: Is that in line with who you are and who you wish to be? If the answer is “no,” than doing that thing violates my first core value.
I have a placard in my living room that I see every morning. It reads: It’s our actions, not our words that define us. It motivates me each day. For me, personal integrity means that my actions must be aligned with my words. From there, everything else is possible.